November 1, 2011 | Commentary on Education
Are public school teachers overpaid? That’s the topic of discussion today at the American Enterprise Institute, where The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine and AEI’s Andrew Biggs are presenting their new paper, “Assessing the Compensation of Public-School Teachers.”
Richwine’s and Biggs’s research led them to some pretty interesting — and perhaps counter-intuitive — findings about how well public school teachers are compensated. For example, they find:
While their salaries are comparable to “similarly skilled private sector workers,” when fringe benefits are thrown into the mix — overgenerous pensions, extensive retiree health care, and job security — public school teachers “make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”
Such findings are sure to draw the ire of public education unions. But how should we rethink policy with these new facts at hand?
While the authors find that existing teachers are over-compensated, we also know that there is a lack of high-quality teachers in America’s classrooms.
The lack of quality teachers, particularly in core subjects like math and science, has a lot to do with policies like “last-in, first-out,” step increases in pay that disregard excellence while rewarding mediocrity, and barriers to entry into the teaching profession. This last piece has created a system of credentialed elite, with union rules at times excluding the qualified in favor of the credentialed.
States and local school districts must reform policy (which will take curtailing the power of education unions) in a way that allows schools to terminate poor-performing teachers. At the same time, schools should compensate teachers based on merit — as does nearly every other sector in America— not on number of years in the classroom, paper credentials, or professional development credits accrued.
First appeared in The Daily Caller